Raising the Bar for Every Design
I became a LEED Accredited Professional on September 29, 2006 during a firmwide push to have everyone in the firm become LEED accredited. Becoming a LEED AP was a big deal at the time; however, in the past twelve years, I have only had the opportunity to certify a single project.
Does that mean that my project designs are not sustainable? On the contrary; USGBC and LEED have brought sustainable design to the forefront my thinking. Whether or not any particular project pursues LEED certification, LEED provides an invaluable knowledge base and a checklist for monitoring the sustainable ideas and elements within a specific project that can easily be confirmed and validated. As a measure of a building’s sustainable design, LEED has set the standard for the industry and continues to raise the bar for building performance.
Of course, even when building owners acknowledge the value of LEED certification, not everyone chooses to pay the added costs for construction, documentation, and submittal. In such cases, we as architects could simply opt to meet minimum code expectations- but what if we went further? How do we incorporate best practices for sustainable design in every project? As a proud signatory of the AIA 2030 Commitment, LS3P is committed to designing sustainable buildings. We believe as a firm in a sustainable built environment, so designing green buildings is part of our daily practice of design and architecture even if we are not submitting for certification.
LS3P’s internal Green Team is currently formulating a sustainable checklist specifically for our firm. An in-house sustainable checklist provides an opportunity for the project team to understand how sustainability can be fully integrated into the specific design requirements for each project. Ultimately, each project shares common elements of design including solar orientation, roofs, windows, and mechanical systems that will benefit from sustainable design strategies. The way that we analyze and design these elements can reinforce our commitment to a sustainable built environment while delivering a high-performance project for the client.
For example, a speculative commercial office building might not contain an energy recovery system, but owners still want to welcome natural light into the building. We can start our sustainable building design by looking at the orientation of the building on the site relative to the sun’s movement across the sky, and we can ask questions about solar heat gain and the transparency of the building. A simple sustainable solution for managing solar heat gain is to vary the shading or type of glass based on the southern and western facing facades. Alternatively, we may explore a single glazing solution but introduce building overhangs or sun shades to limit the effects of the sun on the building systems. New technologies allow us to use the electronic models to quickly see the shading effects created by the architecture of the building, making it easy to incorporate no- or low-cost sustainable strategies into the design from the early stages.
As new sustainable building materials are created, we have the opportunity to incorporate those into the designs of our building without affecting cost. One of the early green design strategies, specifying low VOC paints, has now become industry standard. Carpets made from recycled carpets and steel fabricated from recycled cars are also inherent in each new building and are assumed to be included as part of the overall sustainable design of the project. When LED lights came into the market, their cost was high compared to fluorescent lights and were often rejected; now LED lights are fully integrated into our reflected ceiling plans. In these and many other examples, sustainable strategies which were once leading-edge are now standard as materials evolve and the bar for sustainable performance is raised across the industry.
With continuous improvement in our sustainable designs, our challenge becomes not, “How do we create sustainable building designs?” but rather, “How do we push our designs to go further in addressing the challenges to our environment that are created by our building designs?” The LEED checklist has long been a valuable tool for measuring, and raising the bar for, sustainable design; even for non-certified projects, we as architects are responsible for using our expertise in sustainable design to create more efficient buildings and healthier spaces for work, home, and play.